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Justin O'Neill touches down for a four-pointer.

Cowboys centre Justin O'Neill admits that being dropped to the Intrust Super Cup last year helped him regain his hunger for the game and ultimately led to him taking up an option to remain at the club in 2019.

The former Maroons centre's form was well below his best in the opening 14 rounds last year and he found himself back playing with the Townsville Blackhawks.

"Going back to Queensland Cup level I would watch the boys and if they had a loss I always felt that I wanted to be a part of the team and contribute in some way to getting a win," O'Neill told

"If the boys won I felt like I wanted to be a part of that again and enjoying a win with them. So it was almost like going back to Queensland Cup level reignited a fire in my belly as to why I played footy and made me hungry to be back in the first-grade squad."

It was around that time that O'Neill was also weighing up whether to take up the option in his favour at the Cowboys or pursue opportunities at other clubs.

He didn't spit the dummy after being dropped. Instead, O'Neill took up his option and his form also prospered.

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He missed three games of NRL action after being dropped and returned to the side in round 19 against the Newcastle Knights. He played the last seven games of the year for the Cowboys and ran for more than 100 metres in four of them, after achieving that milestone just four times in the previous 14 games.

"Once it was sorted it was a weight off my shoulders and something less to worry about," O'Neill said.

"It opened things up for me and all I had to do was to go out and play good footy. I found that hunger again and once I got back in the squad I wanted to rip in. I was happy with how I finished the season last year."

Looking back on his decision to remain at the Cowboys, O'Neill said he knew he had made the right call.

"There were options at other clubs but… the Cowboys have been really great to me. I love how tight-knit the group of boys are here, how closely the club communicates with their community and how much the town gets behind the side," he said.

"There has also been a bit of a change-up to the staff here and how they do things. This year is looking really good and that has given me confidence in the decision I've made."

O'Neill played four State of Origin games for Queensland in 2016/17 and is convinced he has not played his last game in a Maroons jumper.

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"I definitely finished last season with the mindset that I didn't think I'd played my last Origin game," he said.

"I wanted to be pushing for that again this year. If I am being considered for the team again that would be great. It is a level I want to get back to."

The Cowboys attack will have a different look about it this year with left-side outside backs Antonio Winterstein and Kane Linnett and half Johnathan Thurston, who played on the left, all gone.

O'Neill is a right-side specialist but he will have to fight hard to retain his position.

"I have been training on both sides this pre-season and there has been a bit of change-up after our entire left side [left]. I'm not even sure which side Morgo [Michael Morgan] is going to play," he said.

"Enari Tuala is pushing for a centre spot. We've got Ben Hampton who played well there last year. Young guys like Dan Russell, who is a back-rower who can play centre, is pushing for a spot and we've still got Javid Bowen. Healthy competition is good competition."

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